Why Well-Being at Work Matters More than Ever

Today, workers and employers alike find themselves in uncharted territory. The impact of COVID-19 has left us all considering many factors, from how long the pandemic will last to its impact on the economy. But what about well-being? How does it factor into the situation?

According to Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of the University of Oxford (also co-editor of the United Nations’ World Happiness Report), well-being — and the factors that contribute to it — is perhaps more important than ever. “The only thing that can mitigate the negative economic and health shocks that we’re seeing will be the strength of our social ties and social capital being activated throughout this crisis,” he explains.

We spoke with De Neve to learn more. Here, he shares his insights into why well-being is so important in times of crisis, what employers can do to support it and how the current pandemic will transform the future of work.

Social ties are crucial for well-being

First, let’s take a look at what we mean by “well-being.” At the highest level, De Neve defines it as “how you are doing — both you and your community — and how that makes you feel.” 

Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve | Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Oxford and Director of the Wellbeing Research Centre

Simple enough, perhaps — but when you look more closely at the work context, many different factors come into play, says De Neve. In fact, employee well-being is shaped by multiple intersecting forces, or “drivers”: Typically these include fair pay or a sense of feeling energized about work. But while these remain important, priorities shift during crises. So what should employers be focusing on right now? 

De Neve believes that the most important drivers of worker well-being during COVID-19 are belonging, appreciation and inclusion, which are all fundamentally social. Together, these factors help workers feel more confident about their future with a company and can also reduce fear and speculation during uncertain times. 

“There is some evidence from past traumatic events like Fukushima or tsunamis where you find that communities with strong ties and strong social capital to begin with are the ones that cope better,” says De Neve.

Workplaces are communities, too, and part of the larger community. But what does this mean in practice? Employers can support well-being and productivity during COVID-19 by nurturing belonging and inclusion, explains De Neve, and showing their appreciation for workers. 

For instance, De Neve advises letting workers know that everyone is in this together and reassuring them that the company recognizes this is an extremely stressful situation. Showing support and recognizing the constraints and challenges facing different workers will help build cohesion and morale during these tough times, and is important for coming out of the pandemic stronger than before. 

And remember: well-being isn’t just good for the soul — it also makes people better workers. 

Focus on openness, transparency and belonging to support workers now

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